Amid a recent escalation by the Israeli authorities aimed at prohibiting displays of the Palestinian flag, and in response to the government’s express intention to pass legislation to achieve that objective, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, based in Haifa, said the proposed ban is part of a larger pattern of attempts to deny Palestinians their right to express their collective identity.
Adalah issued a position paper on 8 March in which it addresses the legality of displaying the Palestinian flag in the public sphere in Israel. The paper examines the history of hostility and incitement surrounding the flag, as part of Israel’s efforts to persecute Palestinians and suppress their national identity. In the paper, Adalah challenges basic assumptions underlying the current legal situation through a historical account of the evolution of the Palestinian flag.
On 5 March, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided to support such a bill, which was submitted by lawmaker Almog Cohen of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, in its preliminary reading in the Knesset. The bill stipulates that an assembly of three or more people displaying flags of “hostile entities” or of a body that “does not recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” will be deemed an illegal assembly, and the penalty for participation in such an assembly will be one-year imprisonment.
The current bill is even more extreme than the commitment prescribed in the coalition agreement signed between the Jewish Power party and the Likud party, which states, that “within six months, the government will advance a law prohibiting the raising and/or display of PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] flags in institutions supported by the state or local authorities.”
Adalah’s new position paper analyzes the current legal situation regarding the waving of the Palestinian flag in Israel and the development of the Palestinian flag, from the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, as a symbol of Palestinian collective belonging and national identity.
The paper emphasizes that, to date, there has been no legal prohibition in Israeli law against waving the flag. Therefore, any attempts by the police to remove it during protests or to arrest individuals for waving it are illegal. The same goes for recent government measures aimed at curtailing public displays of the Palestinian flag, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s recent directive instructing the police commissioner to “enforce the ban” on flying the Palestinian flag in public spaces, and subsequent arrests made solely on the basis of flag-waving.
The position paper demonstrates how such a directive is illegal and contrary to a directive issued by the Attorney General after the Oslo Accords. However, in the paper, Adalah also challenges the basis upon which the Attorney General’s instruction relies, namely, that there is no prohibition on waving the Palestinian flag itself because he erroneously identifies it as the flag of the PLO.
Adalah argues that the flag represents the Palestinian people as a whole and that its use long predates the founding of the PLO in 1964. The paper argues that the flag’s association with the PLO is deliberately intended to frame the waving of the Palestinian flag as an expression of “support for and identification with a terrorist organization”, and to create duality in relation to its nature that is in contravention of criminal law.